Posts filed under 'Athletes'

2020: Navid Afkari

Add comment September 12th, 2020 Headsman

Iran today hanged wrestling champion Navid Afkari.

Afkari was among thousands of Iranians to join 2018 nationwide protests against the government. These protests lasted most of the year, and spread through most of Iran’s major cities, and eventually drew a draconian response.

Clashes in Shiraz resulted in the killing of a water and sewage department security guard named Hasan Torkman, and it was this that was laid at Navid Afkari’s feet as homicide.

Afkari’s case drew international condemnation, especially from world athletes who agreed with his claims that he was targeted for his grappling fame in order to send a message, and that his confession to the murder was tortured out of him. As a further twist of the knife, Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib were also convicted in the same affair and received lengthy prison terms. Video that campaigners circulated of Navid’s mother is positively devastating … as is the heartbreaking audio of Navid’s last message shortly before his execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Murder,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1928: Jim Moss, former Negro League ballplayer

Add comment August 3rd, 2020 Headsman


Chicago Defender, Aug. 11, 1928.

Former Negro Leagues baseball player James Hugh Moss was electrocuted in Georgia on this date in 1928, along with a white man named Clifford Thompson.

The threesome of Moss, Thompson, and Thompson’s wife Eula, were Prohibition bootleggers from Etowah, in eastern Tennessee. A year before almost to the day (August 5, 1927), they had rolled up with a car full of moonshine whiskey to a general store in Chatsworth, Georgia, 45 miles away. Although it was after hours they were able to rouse the shopkeep Coleman Osborne. Some kind of argument ensued, and Osborne was shot dead.

All three of the smugglers were capitally convicted.

Eula Thompson’s electrocution was postponed and as we shall see, never ultimately conducted — but on the eve of the men’s death, she attempted to save them with a sketchy confession to an affair with a local farmer that necessitated Osborne’s murder when the latter found out about it. This sent Georgia Gov. Lamartine Griffin Hardman on an 11th-hour investigation into the exculpatory claim but as a physician he knew just what to do and according to a news report, “Governor Hardman announced recently that the phrenology of Clifford Thompson, the woman’s husband, and Jim Hugh Moss, Negro electrocuted for the murder of Osborne, played a part in his decision not to interfere in their cases.”

That gem comes from a writeup of the case at Baseball Prospectus, which notes that after Eula Thompson’s gambit to exonerate the boys failed, she resorted to a gambit to exonerate herself by blaming the whole thing on (the by then already-executed) Jim Moss. This got her a reprieve while Governor Hardman put his skull forceps to work and eventually the Peach State decided not to run any volts at all through the charming young lady. She married an admirer from the public, got paroled in the 1930s, and ended up back in prison for murdering her brother.

As to Moss’s former athletic feats, the thing that draws our attention in the first place, they’re only glancingly alluded to by the period’s press report. He would have played in the complex of black professional leagues during the period that Major League Baseball enforced a whites-only color line.

A Negro Leagues blog made a go at tracking him down and found that a guy named “Moss” (no first name given) made a single documented appearance in 1918 for the Chicago American Giants. The name subsequently appears on a lower-tier barnstorming team, the Havana Stars. (Chicago-based, despite what the name would suggest.)

Moss isn’t the only known ball player to sit in the mercy seat: check out this forum thread on executed players. And on our humble death blog, we’ve noticed other, more oblique contacts between the headsman and the seamhead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Entertainers,Execution,Georgia,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1944: Osmund Brønnum

Add comment March 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Osmund Brønnum — boxer, Communist, and anti-Nazi Resistance martyr — was executed in Quisling Norway on this date in 1944.

Brønnum (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) practice the sweet science for still-extant Oslo club Vika IF and later progressed into a municipal sports administrator.

A committed Popular Front advocate who had also studied in Moscow, Brønnum greeted the German occupation of his native soil with a turn to printing underground propaganda for the Norwegian Resistance — until, sensing danger, he attempted to escape to Sweden only to be arrested at the border.

He was shot with six other men (notably ichthyologist Iacob Dybwad Sømme) at the Trandumskogen forest execution site (and, a natural enough double role, mass grave). A granite marker unveiled there in 1954 pays tribute to “173 Norwegians, 15 Soviet subjects, and 6 Britons” executed in the forest over the course of the war.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1930: Dr. James Snook, Ohio State University professor

Add comment February 28th, 2020 Headsman

Ohio State University professor Dr. James Howard Snook was electrocuted on this date in 1930.

The eggheaded veterinary lecturer, Snook was an Olympic gold medalist in pistol shooting.* On a site like Executed Today one would presume that sidearms appear with a Chekhovian purpose, but it will transpire that different instruments cause his downfall.

Beginning, as so often occurs, with the instrument the good Lord gave him, which in 1926 was diverted from his wife in favor of comely undergraduate Theora Hix.

Dr. Snook soon installed his paramour in an apartment from which they carried on a torrid three-year love affair whilst Hix progressed to medical school. “We didn’t love each other,” Snook testified. “We satisfied each other’s needs.”

Hix’s needs, by Snook’s interested account, grew shockingly ravenous: she used cocaine, liked to hit and threaten him, and took on other lovers — including another university professor, agronomist Marion T. Meyers. The doctor’s explication of their relationship scandalized the university and the nation for the sordid particulars of their stormy affair. “Almost every letter trailed off into obsceneities [sic],” notes one report (Louisville Courier-Journal, Aug. 9, 1929.) “For the most part their content is unpublishable.” His own counsel was seen to chortle as some were read out to a stunned court, before rising in a vain attempt to claim they proved his client’s insanity.


Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Daily News, July 1, 1929.

According to Snook’s testimony, matters fell apart on a motor outing on June 13, 1929, when he attempted to decline a weekend’s canoodle citing his domestic obligations: “She replied, ‘Damn Mrs. Snook. I am going to kill her and get her out of the way.'” And as Hix began raining blows on Dr. Snook, he grabbed a ball-peen hammer from the car toolkit and struck her … and then kept striking.

“I was sure she was going to shoot me,” Snook said through tears, claiming that he feared she carried a weapon in her purse. “My only thought was to stop her. I sprang after her and struck her again.” (Quotes per the Pittsburgh Post-Gaztte, Aug. 9, 1929.)

After bashing her about four times, she was a crumpled but still-breathing heap outside his vehicle. According to a confession that Snook attempted to repudiate, he then clinically finished her off with a pocket knife to her jugular, as a mercy.

* In the 30-meter team military pistol and 50-meter team military pistol competitions at the 1920 Antwerp games. This also happened to be the last year these disciplines were contested at the Olympics.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Entertainers,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1819: Robert Watkins, Hang Day Fayre

Add comment July 30th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the day in the national limelight for the Wiltshire village of Purton Stoke: the July 30, 1819 execution of Robert Watkins for an infamous robbery-murder.

Watkins, an impecunious bare-knuckle pugilist, murdered coal merchant Stephen Rodway to steal his boodle only to find that the diligent bourgeois had marked his banknotes as a failsafe making it possible to trace their subsequent circulation back to Watkins’s red hands.

So notorious was the crime in its day that ten to fifteen thousand people crowded into the small settlement to see the man pay his penalty, and on minimal notice: it occurred only two sleeps after Watkins’s conviction.

At an early hour of the morning, and at the time of the execution, the number of persons in the road and neighbouring fields was immense. That which was not seen in the prisoner, was evident in most of them — a fearful and breathless anxiety, a solemn stillness, and a deep expression of melancholy thought. There was in him a composure and resignation worthy of a better cause; and were not the proofs of his guilt striking, almost beyond example, his firmness of soul must have extorted compassion in all, and a conviction of his innocence. He was earnestly and feelingly entreated by the chaplain, and by some who were deemed likely to make an impression on him, to disburden his soul of part of its guilt by confession; but he was decisive in his denials of any participation in the deed, and only allowed that he was close to the spot where the murder was committed; in every other respect than that of confession, his behaviour was proper and becoming. Near to the fatal spot, the cart passed his wretched mother; he looked steadfastly at her for some moments, and with a gentle inclination of head and great expression of feature, seemed to take an external farewell of her; but soon after, on the cart stopping from some obstruction, she came up again, and he shook hands with her without losing any of his composure. On the scaffold he joined in earnest prayer with the same unsubdued firmness, and at his own desire, read aloud the 108th Psalm, “O God, my heart is ready;” and afterwards said to the crowd. — “God bless you all.” On the hangman’s adjusting the rope, he observed, that it could only “kill the body;” the action of his lips and hands showed that he was absorbed in prayer till the moment of his death. He was launched into eternity exactly at a quarter past 2 o’clock, and he died without a struggle. Almost at that instant of time, and before the last convulsions were over, a loud clap of thunder burst over the spot where the innumerable multitude had collected, and for half an hour afterwards, redoubled peals reverberated awfully through the heavens. The crowd, who behaved throughout with great propriety, then quietly dispersed.

London Times, Aug. 1, 1819

From the lordly vantage of some idiot execution blogger, this all seems like a pretty mundane crime two centuries later. But it’s still a lively enough memory in Purton Stoke, where the former site of the gallows is still known as Watkins Corner, that the town held a commemorative Hang Day Fayre in 2007, complete with a Watkins execution re-enactment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1951: Sandor Szucs, Hungarian footballer

Add comment June 4th, 2019 Headsman

Twenty-nine-year-old footballer Sandor Szucs was hanged on this date in 1951 for attempting to defect from communist Hungary.

The defender for Ujpest FC, who had also featured internationally for the emerging national team juggernaut destined for legend as the Golden Team, Szucs embarked a politically dangerous extramarital affair with singer Erzsi Kovacs.

When the two attempted to flee the country together, they were arrested just this side of the Yugoslavian border. Kovacs spent four years in prison — she would go on to a successful international career — while Szucs was harshly sentenced to death as a traitor on the strength of a murky military law that had been invoked in no other case. His comrades from the pitch found that their pull did not extend to any effectual aid for him.

It’s presumed that Szucs’s execution was at least in part meant as a warning to these very same mates not to exploit the international team’s travels for any embarrassing defections.

If so, they were right to worry: when the Hungarian Revolution erupted in 1956 while the Golden Team’s primary club mirror was playing an away match in Belgium, several players refused to return to their Soviet-occupied homeland, including superstars Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Sex,Treason

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1943: Martial Van Schelle, Belgian Olympian

Add comment March 15th, 2019 Headsman

Former Olympian Martial Van Schelle was executed by the Nazi occupation on this date in 1943.

American-born, Van Schelle (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was orphaned by the sinking of the Lusitania and got his licks in on the Reich as a member of the American Expeditionary Force.

He later represented Belgium as a multifaceted sportsmen, competing in three summer Olympics, one winter Olympics, and the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race. (No medals.)

Afterwards, he went into business as a Brussels sporting goods merchant. Dutch Wikipedia credits him with building the first ice rink in his country and numerous others thereafter.

During World War II, Van Schelle bankrolled an underground traffic of refugees off the continent to Great Britain, until the Gestapo arrested him on January 15, 1943. He was eventually shot at Fort Breendonk prison.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Belgium,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1944: Werner Seelenbinder, communist grappler

Add comment October 24th, 2018 Headsman

Left-wing athlete Werner Seelenbinder was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1944.

An Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, Seelenbinder’s plan to scandalize patriots by refusing to make the Nazi salute from the podium at the 1936 Berlin games was scratched when he came in fourth in the event.

Nevertheless, Seelenbinder (English Wikipedia entry | German) had already by then given more material aid to Hitler’s foes by using his sportsman’s travel itinerary as cover to act the courier for the banned Communist party.

Arrested in 1942 during the smash-up of the Robert Uhrig resistance ring, Seelenbinder was tortured horrifically in prison but died with courage — as he had pledged in a last letter to his father.

The time has now come for me to say goodbye. In the time of my imprisonment I must have gone through every type of torture a man can possibly endure. Ill health and physical and mental agony, I have been spared nothing. I would have liked to have experienced the delights and comforts of life, which I now appreciate twice as much, with you all, with my friends and fellow sportsmen, after the war. The times I had with you were great, and I lived on them during my incarceration, and wished back that wonderful time. Sadly fate has now decided differently, after a long time of suffering. But I know that I have found a place in all your hearts and in the hearts of many sports followers, a place where I will always hold my ground. This knowledge makes me proud and strong and will not let me be weak in my last moments.

As a visible public person who died in resistance to fascism, Seelenbinder made for ready national-icon material in postwar Germany … but because of his red affiliations he was honored in this fashion mostly in East Germany. (Indeed, even a sports club that had been named for him weeks after the war’s end, in the American-occupied sector, stripped his name right off a few years later to keep with the times. The stadium was reverted to its Seelenbinder christening in 2004.)


East Berlin’s Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle was demolished in 1993 and replaced by the Velodrom.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1940: Julien Vervaecke, Tour de France cyclist

Add comment May 25th, 2017 Headsman

On or around this date — exactly when is forever obscure* — the former Tour de France cyclist Julien Vervaecke was summarily executed by Polish and British soldiers in German-occupied Belgium.

The Belgian velocipeddler raced professionally from 1924 to 1936 and reached the top ten of cycling’s signature event four times — capped by a third-place ride in 1927.

He’s most famous in the annals of his sport for his controversial victory in the 1930 Paris-Roubaix race, when he crossed the finish line second after getting the worst of a late collision with French cyclist Jean Marechal, but was awarded the win by judges who faulted Marechal for the incident. (Vervaecke got the medal but not the branding: it’s known as l’affaire Marechal.)

By the time war clouds had gathered anew, Vervaecke (English Wikipedia entry | German | French) had retired to proprietorship of a restaurant in Menen, on the French border.

As the Wehrmacht blitz overran Belgium, Vervaecke’s home chanced to fall within the British pocket pinned to Dunkirk, 70 kilometers away away. The famous evacuation would commence on May 26.

On May 24, scrambling soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, apparently including some officers of the exiled Polish army,* tried to ransack Vervaecke’s place for supplies, and the ex-cyclist resisted. As with Marechal all those years ago, Vervaecke had the worst of this collision, and the tetchy troopers led him away.

Nobody witnessed what happened to him; his body only turned up weeks later, over the border in France. It’s guessed that he might have been detained and then shot out of hand hours later — more prey to the fog of war.


At least he didn’t die of lung cancer: In a different era for athletics, Vervaecke and Maurice Geldhof take a trip to flavor country during the Tour de France.

* Poland had already been occupied by Germany and the USSR, in September 1939.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,Entertainers,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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1824: John Thurtell, the Radlett murderer

1 comment January 9th, 2017 Headsman

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.

At noon this date in 1824, upon a fresh-built black gallows adjoining Hertford Prison, John Thurtell hanged for one of regency England’s most infamous crimes.

Son of the Norwich mayor, John Thurtell was rubbish with money and had twice crashed his bombazine business into insolvency while stiffing his creditors. (John’s brother Tom served time for defrauding an insurance company with a suspicious warehouse fire.)

But these were merely business matters.

When Thurtell fell into a £300 gambling debt to thanks to Weare’s cheating at cards, maybe it was a matter of honor. Thurtell invited the Lyon’s Inn barrister to a gaming piss-up at Thurtell’s cottage in the village of Radlett. They’d be joined by Thurtell’s mates Joseph Hunt and William Probert, “Turpin lads” in Thurtell’s estimation.

Just short of their destination, on a street later to be known as “Murder Lane”, Thurtell shot Weare in the face. The shot scored only a glancing hit against his victim’s cheekbone, but Thurtell was in for a penny, in for a pound: he tackled the fleeing Weare, opened his throat from ear to ear, and pistol-whipped his skull into bloody-brained bits.

Whatever malice aforethought had moved Thurtell to this vengeful crime did not contain near enough calculation. “The whole history of the murder, and the scenes which ensued, are strange pictures of desperate and short-sighted wickedness,” Sir Walter Scott marveled.

Abandoning the gun at the scene — it was one of a paired set of which Thurtell owned the other — the killer and his friends hauled the corpse to a nearby pond, then proceeded unperturbed to the night’s revelry fresh from homicide, even donning Weare’s own clothes in subsequent days.

Worst of all from the perfect-crime standpoint, Thurtell had undertaken the crime himself (openly popping off, per the subsequent court record, “if Weare comes down, I will do him, for he has done me out of several hundred pounds”) and his companions turned on him when the investigation inevitably bore down on them. Probert went crown’s evidence immediately in exchange for immunity, even leading authorities to the body; Hunt stalled and lied for a while, but cracked soon enough.

To the nationwide outrage at this shocking callousness among obnoxious society rakes was added the whiff of scandal about Thurtell’s involvement in “the Fancy” — the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing.

Frequented then as now both by underworld elements and society gentlemen, boxing was officially illegal but widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, the burgeoning sport — with its naked brutality, more-than-occasional fatalities, multiracial proletarian cast, and associations with various unsavory characters, had ample moral-panic potential. The Fancy, said a judge in 1803,

draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.

But many of his peers were there in the audience, laying their own mischievous wagers.

As magistrates it may have been their duty to discountenance, but as county gentleman it was their privilege to support, the noble champions of the art, especially when they had their money on the event.

Thurtell, briefly an amateur pugilist himself, was a trainer and promoter on the boxing circuit.


Detail view (click for full image) of “A correct view of the execution, taken on the spot by an eminent artist.” (Source)

Thurtell was anatomized after execution; a wax likeliness of the hated murderer stood in Madame Tussaud’s until the 1970s.

As for Thurtell’s confederates: Joseph Hunt’s cooperation was sufficient to cop a last-second commutation of his death sentence; he was transported to Australia instead. William Probert completely avoided prosecution thanks to his expeditious turn to crown’s evidence, but the career criminal (now practically disbarred from honest labor by dint of his nationwide infamy) found himself in hangman Foxen‘s hands not long thereafter for stealing a horse.

The foreman of the jury that convicted Thurtell went on to become the Prime Minister.

And Thurtell’s victim Weare did his own posthumous bit for the annals of English publishing when a printer multiplied its customary revenue stream on a Thurtell gallows broadsheet with a second edition headed “WE ARE alive”. Printed in such a way to intentionally make the first two words appear to read “WEARE”, its handsome sales to the gullible allegedly originated the term “catchpenny”.

There are a number of 19th century accounts of this case available in the public domain, including here, here and here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Athletes,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Pelf,Public Executions

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